Depressed onion prices in
Tahir Ali Khan
July 4, 2011: THE onion farmers in Swat are not getting
reasonable returns for their crop due to absence of a modern
market system in the province. Despite a bumper onion crop
this year, they have not fully benefited from the harvest.
Farmers say regulated markets, local onion purchase centres,
improved transportation of the produce to other provinces
and export facilitation centres are needed to help them get
fair price for their crop.
Swat onions are liked for their big size, appetising taste
and better quality, but farmers say the middlemen and
commission agents are taking bulk of the profit.
Lower prices have compelled farmers to delay their harvest
and sales in the hope of better return. While a few of them
can afford to keep their harvest in self-owned or rented
godowns, most dump onion in their fields in the open.
In Swat and Dir, one can see a lot of these onion-dumps in
fields, hujras and in front of houses. A hailstorm or rain
and humidity could damage the harvested crop.
“The commission agents in Gujranwala promise us good returns
and say a bag fetches Rs900-1100. But when we reach there,
we find the price at Rs600 per bag. A truckload of 200 bags
of onion can fetch up to Rs120,000 while our total expenses
on the same quantity of onion comes to around Rs150,000,”
says Daud Khan, a farmer near Mingora in lower Swat.
The onion price, he says, is not sufficient even to cover
his expenses on cultivation, farm-rent and transportation
etc. “I have taken land on lease for Rs0.3 million per annum
from a local landlord, and spent another Rs0.11mn on labour
inputs on the crop. An amount of Rs50,000 per trip have been
spent on transportation and other expenses. I will have to
make at least six trips so the total amount in this head
alone comes to around Rs0.3 million. My total onion
to around 1,200 bags each weighing 90kg. It means I will
earn not more than Rs0.72 million at the present market
price. This is exactly what I have spent on the crop. There
is no profit for me despite toiling for months. How can I
sell my crop at this
rate,” he said.
“The problem is that we
cannot delay our harvesting and deals for long as the field
and truck are to be emptied for new crops and to avoid
inflated trucks fares which increases if offloading is
delayed. Then there is the problem of security and rent in
the market. Rains also are a constant threat as the
commodity lies in the open which could be destroyed by
ground moisture or
insects. So the farmers have to sell their produce
willy-nilly at lower rates,” he adds.
“Isn’t it unjust that the farmers are being paid only Rs6
per kg while the commodity is being sold at not less than
Rs30-40kg in the market? Shouldn’t the government stop this
injustice by commission agents and ensure a better price for
farmers,” adds Khan.
“The government says it will create linkage between market
and Swat farmers but has failed to ensure fair price for our
produce. Agriculture in the region has been badly affected
first by militancy and then by flash-floods but local
farmers are yet to be given proper support,” he complains.
The provincial horticulture policy 2009 recommends setting
up of agriculture producers’ markets and market information
systems at district level.
Local farmers are compelled to take their onion to Punjab to
get better prices. The problem can be solved by establishing
regulated local markets and opening onion purchase centres
in different parts of upper and lower Swat and Dir in the
public, private sector or through public-private
Transportation of onion could be facilitated by arranging
special goods-train from Dargai in Malakand where existing
railway lines mostly lie unused.
Onion farmers would benefit if some waterproof packaging is
introduced to minimise crop losses and facilitate export.
Swat accounts for 3/4th of the onion harvest of the
province. Malakand division, especially Swat and Dir,
produced about 108,000 tons of onion in 2006.
Courtesy: The DAWN